Business & Money

Black Enterprise aims to take businesses to the next level

By Starla Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jun 8, 2012 - 9:31:17 AM

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(Left) Warren Ballentine, syndicated radio host broadcast his show live from the BE conference.
CHICAGO ( - The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and moving in Black America. More than 1,200 aspiring, budding and established business owners recently gathered here for the 17th annual Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference and Expo to network and learn effective strategies in growing their businesses.

The number of Black-owned businesses has jumped considerably, up 60.5 percent between 2002 and 2007, raking in receipts of $137.5 billion. Yet despite this growth, Black-owned businesses still make up only seven percent of all U.S. businesses and 87 percent of Black businesses had sales of less than $50,000 and 54.5 percent have only between one and four employees.

“The two major challenges are access to capital and access to contracts, both government contracts as well as corporate contracts and that’s what we’re specifically addressing at this event,” Derek T. Dingle, senior vicepresident and editor-in-chief of Black Enterprise told The Final Call.

(Right) Tavis Smiley was interviewed by Derek T. Dingle, editor-in-chief and senior vice-president of Black Enterprise.
“We had a session called ‘(Equity) Date with an Angel’ that enabled people to figure out how they can connect with wealthy individuals that would invest in businesses. We have a panel called ‘Where the money is’ and that’s going to talk about how people can get everything from micro loans to money from private equity firms,” said Mr. Dingle.

Sessions on corporate procurement and developing businesses with major corporations were available as well, he added. 

“I think what’s important at this event beyond the information we give at the panels is making those connections. It’s helping entrepreneurs forge partnerships so that they can have the wherewithal to handle a major contract from a corporation,” Mr. Dingle added. 

When asked if corporate or philanthropic involvement and investment could pose risks or challenges with small businesses pushed out or taken over, Mr. Dingle said ultimately, a conscious decision must be made by the small business owner.

“I think in these days for the most part you have to look for partners. If you don’t have capital you have to find a partner that does have capital and that does come with having to, in many cases, give up a portion of your company,” he explained. 

However, there are ways to structure agreements so business owners will have the ability to buy back that investment, said Mr. Dingle. Understanding what type of strategic partnership will work best and finding partners that share the same vision for your business is key, he explained.

The BE conference offered several workshops and panels including, “To the Source: Doing Business in Africa,” “Social Media: X Factor—Taking Your Business Marketing Strategy to the Next Level Now,” “Merger Ahead: The Art of Strategic Partnerships,” and the popular Elevator Pitch Competition in which contestants had 60 seconds to present their business idea to a panel of judges.

Small business “Boot Camps,” a Teenpreneur Conference aimed at 13- to 17-year-olds and one-on-one business coaching sessions rounded out the power packed conference May 23-26.

Media personality, businessman and author Tavis Smiley shared some of the successes and challenges of building his brand, which includes a publishing company, speakers’ bureau and media entities.

Mr. Smiley shared how being fired forced him to pursue goals he had never gone after previously.

“When Bob Johnson fired me from  BET in March of 2001, I decided then that I would not go back on television unless and until I owned the entire operation. It took me three years to put that deal together … I took three years to plan my work and then work my plan to own all the stuff that we own today,” said Mr. Smiley in front of a live audience session.

The BE conference was held just a few doors down from the iconic building once owned by Johnson Publishing Co., of Ebony and Jet fame. The impact of that company’s visionary and publisher John H. Johnson was not lost on those who attended.

The conference was not without some sad news as it was announced that Barbara Graves, 75, wife of Black Enterprise founder and patriarch Earl Graves Sr. died May 25 after a battle with cancer. Mrs. Graves helped develop BE magazine in a variety of areas alongside her husband and was co-founder of the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit.

Daymond John, CEO and founder of FUBU and co-star of Shark Tank; Beverly Johnson, supermodel and business woman; Michael Baisden, radio personality and a host of other Black professionals, innovators and entrepreneurs participated in this year’s conference.

The BE Entrepreneurs Conference and Expo is one of the largest small business expos in the U.S. and is the largest small Black business expo of its kind. Mr. Dingle said it is critical that Black business owners build a network to continue growth and development.

“We see a rise in African American entrepreneurship largely because, well, one in Chicago it’s been a tradition of entrepreneurship. With this conference we celebrate the 40th anniversary of BE 100 and what makes it special that we’re here is we’re also celebrating companies like Johnson Publishing, Soft Sheen, and Johnson Products which helped serve as an example of what you can do and grow a business,” said Mr. Dingle.

“What we hope is that we’re providing people with resources, contacts and information that will eventually get them to the ranks of the nation’s largest Black-owned businesses,” said Mr. Dingle.